Monday, November 15, 2010

Gluten-Free Gratitude

Needing to adopt an uncompromising gluten-free diet has redefined my relationship with food.

First, a confession: As much as I try to grow organic veggies in the garden, some years the soil is too acidic and the weather too hot and I planted too late and the yield is next to nil. As much as I want to eat local and in season, some days I'm doing good to get anything in my mouth at all. (Modern nursing is not kind to the nurse. Most of us have a workday diet of prepackaged refined carbs, sugar, salt, and caffeine, swallowed on the run). At the end of a shift on my feet, my culinary aspirations generally involve a microwave and paper plates. I have been known to eat for comfort, or for boredom. I had lost my passion for cooking in general. And I was seriously, unabashedly addicted to bread.

Not being able to eat at all for most of August and September changed my life. I was sick, in severe pain, and afraid I would end up on an operating table. I became angry, frustrated, and irritable. I lost 30 lbs far too quickly, and wondered if I would ever be able to tolerate more than clear liquids again. Two months is a long time to not eat.

I began to long for food...not for comfort or even to fill the growling void, but for sheer nourishment. I started to imagine the giddy energy that would course through my body if I could eat a handful of raw spinach leaves. I daydreamed about the delicate scent and taste of thinly slice almonds...and the sustenance from their protein. The juice of a crisp, cold, fresh apple could be the perfect afternoon pick-me-up.

When at last I could begin to eat again, I savored the tastes, textures, and life in my food with a new perspective. I was so happy to be able to eat at all that I felt overjoyed at the abundance of real foods that was open to me. Instead of focusing on what I can't eat, I decided to have great adventures with what I can! In the process, I have found a new passion for creating in the kitchen. My body is healing. My skin is glowing. I taste each precious mouthful. For all of this, I am deeply, joyfully thankful.

Here's the Thanksgiving menu:

Turkey with GF gravy
Pureed roasted sweet potatoes with pecan praline topping
Green beans with almond, onion and a hint of bacon
Glazed baby carrots
Spinach salad
Cranberry-orange chutney
GF pumpkin pie

I'll try to post recipes soon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Never seen up North...

For all my non-Southern readers, this doesn't mean "slap your mother in the face". It's more along the lines of the country song "...OoooWeee, shut my mouth, slap yo' grandma...", which in Northern parlance, roughly translates to "Stop trying to say inadequate congratulatory things and give the cook a congratulatory (and not too robust) slap on the back/behind".

Still....never seen up North. :)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mardi Blah

When I moved South a few years ago, I was surprised at what a big deal folks make of Mardi Gras. I knew it was an institution in New Orleans, but I had no idea that the entire Deep South pretty much grinds to a halt for four days. We didn't get a day off on President's Day, but most citizens are enjoying an extended weekend to take part in Mardi Gras festivities.

The great irony is that most of them are Southern Baptists ("don't drink, don't dance, don't run around half naked"), and not Catholics (who observe the liturigcal calendar that includes Ash Wednesday and Lent, which spawned Mardi Gras...).

"Fat Tuesday" started out as a day to use up all the extravagant foodstuffs in the home before the austerity and fasting of Lent began on Ash Wednesday. Folks were to roast all their meat and enjoy the gravy before a month of bread and vegetables. It has evolved into an NC-17 secular celebration of excesses in places like New Orleans, where a lot of folks won't go for fear of being shot in the street if things get too wild.

In small town South Mississippi, though, things are pretty low key. Every little community has a parade, where "Krewe"s (organizations that put on Mardi Gras parades or balls) convert trucks or buses into parade floats, play music from loudspeakers, and throw strings of irridescent beads at watchers along the route.

Churches, Lion's Clubs, Shriners, and any other community association you can think of host plate suppers where you can have a piece of King Cake. School classrooms and office break rooms are awash in King Cakes from Twelfth Night (the twelfth night after Christmas and the beginning of the Carnival season) through Mardi Gras.

For those of you who don't know...a King Cake is a circular coffee cake laced with cinnamon and iced in purple, gold, and green. It is circular to portray the route used by the kings to get to the Christ Child, which was taken to confuse King Herod. A small plastic baby is hidden inside the cake, to symbolize the Christ Child. The person who gets the hidden piece is declared King for the day and is expected to carry on the carnival festivities by hosting the next King Cake party.

It sounds like a lot of innocent fun on a small town scale, but I haven't been able to gear myself up to attend a parade this season. Mountains of homework and clinical rotations haven't helped; on my days off I usually just want to rest. I'm not sure what else is contributing to my "blahs" this year. I think that part of me feels like it's wrong to celebrate excess, when excess is what got our economy to the sorry state it's in. Excess ruins a lot of lives on an individual scale, too, but that's another story. And fact of the matter is, we just have way too many Mardi Gras beads kicking around the house.

So to all those in my small town who love Mardi Gras, forgive me for having the Mardi Blahs. I love y'all, and I'm not being a stick in the mud. Have a piece of King Cake for me now, hear? I'm gonna get back to my studying.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Today I am grateful for...

Encouragement. I am in the midst of a very overwhelming week at nursing school, and encouragement has come in many forms: hugs and help and reassurances from my husband; commiserations and positive feedback from classmates; smiles from instructors; a long chat with a friend; and one-liners from my four-year-old: "Mommy, are you going to work at the hospital and wipe sick peoples' bottoms today?"

Small town friendliness. It was cold and raining outside, and I didn't feel like leaving my warm nest on the couch to go to the store and get the staples that were absolutely needed before morning because we were almost out of bread, milk, and toilet paper. The husband was even more exhausted than I, so I dragged myself to the store and plodded through the aisles, draped over the cart. Ever had a night like that?

Well, what if you were plodding through the store draped over your cart and you happened to meet someone familiar who called you by name, smiled at you, and asked about you? Wouldn't you immediately stand up straight, smile, feel better, and feel cared about? I know I would. And I did, when it happened to me.

Cool thing happens all the time in a small town. :-)

How about you? What are YOU thankful for?

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Power of a Woobie

It was my son who first taught me. He was my original "Linus", with a fleece blanket always in tow or close at hand. Once, when he was four, I was having a particularly tough day and I sat at the bottom of the stairwell to have a little private cry. Matt found me, and lay his blankie on my lap as his serious gaze assessed the situation. "Mama, everyone needs sof' blankies", he said. I tried to give his blankie back, thinking it too precious a gift. He wrapped it around me as best as he could, gave me a hug, and toddled off. I sat on the step, trying to regain my composure, pondering his loving actions.

As I rubbed his blankie against my cheek, I did feel better. Was it the tactile stimulation? The soothing softness? The love that had been hugged into that blankie by my son over several years? Or the love in his act of lending it to me? Why do sof' blankies have so much power to comfort and heal?

I've pondered this question many times over the years, primarily because I have four children. But I've come to the conclusion that the blankie's power to comfort, reassure, and heal is due to all four reasons.

Countless scientific studies have proven what every human knows from birth: soft things feel good. Especially when we rub them over our skin. This causes the release of endorphins in ou bodies, which result in a feeling of comfort, relaxation, and satisfaction.

Tactile stimulation, especially light rubbing and stroking over the skin, also relieves physical pain. This is because the brain can only take in so much physical stimuli at one time; biochemically, pleasant stimuli take precedence. If your leg is in pain, and you start lightly rubbing your arms and cheeks, you might find your pain lessen--because the brain is in essence "distracted" by the stimulus and the chemicals it releases inside of your body. It lets them into your central nervous system and reduces the number of pain chemicals that get in...kind of like letting the feel-good chemicals cut to the head of the line. Pretty cool, huh?

My oldest child has had a few different "specials" over the years, but they've all had one thing in common: they need an occasional "refill" of Mommy love, in the form of me hugging them long and tight. No matter how cute a doll or stuffed animal matter how pretty a blanket, quilt, or afghan is...the recipient always seems to be able to tell the difference between a store-bought one given with little thought, and something lovingly handmade or selected. Why is this?

Have you ever walked into a room and before one person looked at you or spoke, sensed love? Have you ever walked into a room and before one person looked at you or spoke, sensed a hostile, hateful environment? I think just about everyone has, at one time or another. I believe that we all have the capacity to sense love....and that a recipient can discern gift made or given with much love, which makes it that much more special.

Then, there's the act of giving. We are touched by a handmade gift because of all the hours, the skill, the work, the thoughtfulness, and the love that went into it. We are touched when someone offers to lend us their most precious possession, merely because they love us. "Oh, no", we say, "I couldn't possibly..." Yet they insist, whether or not we merit the object. True love is unconditional. True love deems us all worthy. And we are.

Over the years, I've made a lot of woobies. In our house, we all have one. When someone is discouraged, tired, ill, sad, frustrated, upset, or hurt, you'll see them with a woobie wrapped around their head or shoulders or torso, and somehow it seems to help the difficulties recede into the distance while the comfort infuses into our weary bodies and souls.

There's a really special international movement called the Prayer Shawl Ministry. The shawls may be knitted, crocheted, quilted, or sewn. Whether they are called Prayer Shawls, Comfort Shawls, Peace Shawls, or Mantles, etc., the shawl maker begins with prayers and blessings for the recipient. The intentions are continued throughout the creation of the shawl. Upon completion, a final blessing is offered before the shawl is sent on its way. Some recipients have continued the kindness by making a shawl and passing it onto someone in need. Thus, the blessing ripples from person-to-person, with both the giver and receiver feeling the unconditional, loving embrace.

I encourage you to embrace the power of the woobie for yourself or for someone special in your life. Try making even a simple one, and giving it to someone you love. You never know how much it may bless you...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Simple Woman's Daybook - Wednesday, January 21st

FOR TODAY, January 21st...

Outside my window a perfect crescent moon is rising higher into the black velvet heavens, while the first hint of dawn is breaking on the horizon. A live oak tree is perfectly silhouetted against the glow.

I am thinking about the intricacies of postpartum assessment.

I am thankful for dear friends, old and new.

From the learning rooms: I am doing a happy dance because I aced the advanced dosage calculation test! The first microbiology exam is today, and Friday is the antepartum/intrapartum/postpartum exam in nursing. I'll be practicing IV insertion all weekend for a test on Tuesday...anyone want to come over and help me study? :-)

From the kitchen: leftover homemade vegetable soup for lunch today, and an italian sausage and white bean cassoulet for dinner.

I am wearing my favorite sheep's fleece slippers. They have a Birkenstock-style bottom and a clog upper, and I would go EVERYWHERE in them if I could. Come to think of it...I have!

I am creating, on average, 100 pages of notes per week in class.

I am going to a nursing convention in April, up in Vicksburg, and I'm excited about it.

I am reading nursing textbooks, nursing textbooks, and more nursing textbooks. Will there ever be time for a novel? One day, perhaps? I'll settle for a short one...

I am hoping that today flies by quickly.

I am hearing my daughter's quiet breathing as she dozes in my bed across the room.

Around the husband did the laundry and things are looking pretty good!

One of my favorite things is a cranberry, walnut and date raw foods snack bar.

A few plans for the rest of the week: Study, study, study, study, study.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing:

Wrapped around my daughter's head is her "special", a blanket I started knitting the day I found out I was pregnant with her. I literally prayed with every single's kind of like a soft, cuddly rosary. I somehow think she has always sensed that, because ever since she was a newborn, she has shown a preference for that blanket.

She calls it her Woobie, and it's not just a bedtime cuddlie and a comfort object. It's also a cape, a dress, a headscarf, a picnic blanket, a skirt, and occasionally (insert mom cringing here) a mop. It has survived countless washings, and is now restricted to home because of its increasing fragility. I offered to knit her another one out of the exact same yarn, and she recoiled in horror: "Oh Mommy, NO! There can be only ONE Woobie!!"

I love this sweet picture. And today I wouldn't mind wrapping a woobie around my head and going back to sleep, either. :-)

Scoot on over to The Simple Woman's Daybook to read more entries...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Today I am thankful for...

My girls passing their dosage calculation test. We studied together for hours on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday for this make-or-break test. (10 questions, and you've got to pass with an 80 or you can't continue in the nursing program.) I am SO proud and so happy. They not only passed the test; they conquered their fears!

Hugs. I can't think of anything else in the world that has the power to instantly comfort and restore us like a warm hug. Like my oldest has always said, "Love is the BEST medicine."

What are YOU grateful for?
Scoot on over to Gratituesdays to read more reasons for giving thanks...